Fletcher denies link to South Africa post

Duncan Fletcher was in a state of denial yesterday which made the ascetics of Lent look positively indulgent. He denied ignoring old friends on this tour; he denied that England in general, and Stephen Harmison in particular, wanted to go home; he denied that he had been any more strained than on previous tours; and he definitively denied that he was about to become coach of South Africa instead of England.

Duncan Fletcher was in a state of denial yesterday which made the ascetics of Lent look positively indulgent. He denied ignoring old friends on this tour; he denied that England in general, and Stephen Harmison in particular, wanted to go home; he denied that he had been any more strained than on previous tours; and he definitively denied that he was about to become coach of South Africa instead of England.

He did not deny that England had a job on their hands to come back to 2-2 in the one-day series tonight, or that they had been pretty rubbish on Sunday. All his rebuttals were delivered with a bewilderment which could not conceal the fact that his one-day team are now desperately up against it.

His statements were rendered necessary partly by his wariness of the press, which has paradoxically inspired rumours, and partly by the innate need to question the behaviour of coaches, no matter how successful. Fletcher has been sketchily linked with the South African job since England arrived here, partly because his home is in Cape Town, partly because the incumbent, Ray Jennings, has been appointed only temporarily.

"I haven't spoken to anybody or done anything about it," he said. "People just write things, I don't know where they get it from. I'm not applying for it. England have been very good to me, and I'm staying within the bubble of the team."

Several old chums of Fletcher's from these parts are said to have been slighted by him. But Fletcher wearily observed that he was in a difficult situation. "I've got to be seen that I'm with the England side and that's it. I can be seen talking to a South African for too long and then what's the story?" You could see his point.

He conceded that the tour had its share of stress but then appeared to retract in case this was interpreted as a sign that men in white coats who were not umpires were coming to take him away. "It has been difficult - but when you play sides like Australia, there's going to be stress and it's right there should be. But a lot of it has been very positive. I've done the same on this tour as I have done on every tour - I just get totally involved with the England set up. I don't think I've changed from any tour I have been on."

As for homesickness he reiterated that there was a series to be won and that Harmison had never complained. "He's told us he wants to play one-day cricket for England and that's as far as we want to go."

England must decide whether to stick with Harmison today despite his early waywardness on Sunday. The gamble of leaving him out would seem to be greater than the gamble of playing him. Fletcher said he would have a chat but would say no more. "If I want credibility with the player I've got to have some confidentiality. I can't go blurting to the press," he said.

The other team selection puzzles concern the batting order. The likelihood is that England, for now, will stick with the bizarre experiment of the wicketkeeper Geraint Jones as opener instead of Vaughan, Andrew Strauss or Ian Bell. But Jones has to score proper runs soon. If they give up on him now, it will be for more than Lent.

South Africa (from): G C Smith (capt), A M Bacher, N Boje, M V Boucher, A B de Villiers, H H Gibbs, A J Hall, J H Kallis, J M Kemp, A Nel, M Ntini, S M Pollock, A G Prince, J A Rudolph.

England (from): M P Vaughan (capt), Kabir Ali, J M Anderson, G J Batty, I R Bell, P D Collingwood, A F Giles, D Gough, S J Harmison, M J Hoggard, G O Jones, K P Pietersen, V S Solanki, A J Strauss, M E Trescothick, A G Wharf.

Umpires: I L Howell (SA) and S A Bucknor (WI).

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